Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Letting go

Joy posted earlier this month about goals for the New Year. I have a few. One of them is staring me in the face right now.

I want to learn how to let go of a story.

The novella that is due, uh, like NOW, is still on my desk. I must mail it out. It's finished. But I can't let go. I keep editing and editing, worrying over it, trying to make it perfect. One last sentence deleted, another rewritten.

The 20,000 word story has taken me as long to write as the 70,000 word Nocturne. And I can't figure out why.

Oh, I really like the characters, the plot. But I find myself filled with doubts, those horrid creatures that easily kill creativity. Maybe THIS word will make it stronger, more emotional, more blah blah blah blah.

Enough. Already.

It always amuses me when people, after finding out I'm an author, casually remark, "Oh, I've always wanted to write a book in my spare time."

I feel like telling them, "Oh, I've always wanted to dig my brains out of my head with a dull fork in my spare time."

Maybe for some writers, it's easy. They can sit down, whip out a story like it's a delicate souffle, and everything is delicious, creamy, rich. People sigh over it and weep.

With me, it's more like baking a Thanksgiving turkey for a critical family dinner. I keep basting, checking, basting, worrying, basting, and then when it's done, I carve into it and POW!

It busts open like that dried, wrinkled mess Chevy Chase cut into on Christmas Vacation.

Or not. Sometimes it's a delicious golden brown and juicy, and melts in your mouth.

It's not easy letting go of the work. Whether it's to give to a friend to read, or an editor, or enter into a contest, or wait for a review, there's a part of you that dreads the reaction. Will they like it? Will they want to read more?

Or would they rather be coated in honey and staked to an anthill?

I can honestly say I don't know one writer, though I'd love to meet one! who hasn't experienced some kind of self-doubt. Years ago at my chapter's conference, the keynote speaker, a NY Times best-seller I admired, admitted she gets nervous when turning in a story to her editor. She too, worries about anyone liking it.


I have a lot of respect for those who can brave the waters of extreme criticism, and submit their work to be read by a panel in front of a crowded audience.

Last week my chapter, Florida Romance Writers, held our conference. I didn't go. I was on deadline, and this is a bad time of year for me as I usually travel for the day job. (Next week I'll be in Haiti.)

The conference was on a cruise, organized by the amazing Aleka Navis, and they hosted an event that's become popular at our conferences.

It's called Floridian Idol. You submit a few pages for a panel of agents and editors to read aloud and tell the audience exactly what they think of your writing.


Sarah from the Smart Bitches blog attended our conference, and participated in this. Here's her thoughts on what it was like:

"So having the product of those less--than-turgid muscles critiqued is like having the gym’s most sculpted personal trainer watching you work out. In a word: Eeeep. So mad props to the writers who participated – I know firsthand what you went through. The experience was supremely fidget-inducing."

That sums it up. Fidget-inducing. It was fidget-inducing for me two years ago when I attended Floridian Idol, and I didn't even submit my work. I cringed at some of the comments. The panel was bluntly honest, and their opinions priceless. Seldom can you get instant feedback from publishing professionals. But still... ouch.

And yet, not all of them agreed on everything. Which goes to show the one truism of publishing every writer should keep chanting to himself/herself.

Not everyone will love, or hate, what you write. Because writing is NOT a science.

For all the craft books you can read, all the workshops you can attend, all the techniques and skill you can employ in your story, in the end, what one person will dismiss, another may love.

One editor might gush over your story as if it's that rare, delicate souffle.

Another might look at it and say, "Eeeeww. Yuck."

So how can you tell if it's any good? How can you tell when it's time to let go, and send it off into the world like a child toddling off to the first day of school?

For me, it's when I realize I'm clinging, like a parent reluctant to release her child to the big, bad, and wonderful world. But deep in my heart, I know I've done all I can, and it's time.

So I print, I read again, slide it into an envelope and mail.

Good-byes are never easy for me. Even when it's a story.


Jennifer Ashley/ Allyson James / Ashley Gardner January 27, 2009 at 1:00 PM  

Just send in the #&*!@ story, Bonnie!


Let me tell you about my very first submission--a short story for a fantasy magazine. I actually got it into the envelope after polishing it about a hundred times. I took it to the post office. But I couldn't put it in the mailing slot. My fingers would not let go of that envelope, no matter how hard I tried.

My husband ripped it from my hand and slammed it into the slot.

If not for him, I wouldn't have a writing career. (BTW, they bought the story.)

These days, I'm still worried about what my editor will think of my submission. Will she say it's the best thing I've ever written? Or pop it right back to me and say there's no hope for it?

Here's how I make myself send the stuff in:

I know I'll get it back.

I know I'll have to revise *something*.

So I give myself permission to do another polish run during revisions. That way I stop polishing the darn thing and give it to my editor.

(Which I hope you have done by now, young lady.)

However, there is no way I could participate in the Floridian Idol type thing. I don't have that thick skin I'm supposed to have. I do want to hear what's wrong with my story and what needs to be fixed, but not in front of God and everyone, thank you very much!!

Genella deGrey January 27, 2009 at 4:22 PM  

Bonnie - Great post.

Aside from my CP, I have a small handful of beta readers. When I finish a story and after I've gone through it eliminating my "crutch" words, I send my baby out to them.

A few more sets of eyes can never hurt!

EmilyBryan January 28, 2009 at 5:01 AM  

Oh Bonnie, I so empathize. In fact, I just sent a blogpost to Christie Craig that's going to air on KillerFiction on Jan 31st. It's titled KILL THE EDITOR.

No, of course, I'm not talking about Leah. She's wonderful.

I'm talking about the editor who's never satisfied, always rips my work to shreds and happens to live in my head.

Let me know when you figure out how to placate the monster.

Cindy Holby January 28, 2009 at 8:54 AM  

I don't have the problem with the internal editor. However I do go through the what if angst. What if my editor hates it? What if she says we can't publish it? What if I just wasted six months of my life? It's always a major relief to get that phone call that says I love it and just want to suggest a few changes.

Of course I've also worked with an editor who said. I love it. Here's a sixteen page editorial comment letter with bullet points. Call me back in three days.

Gerri Russell January 29, 2009 at 11:27 AM  

Bonnie, send that baby off!

Perfection is an elusive thing that ultimatly shows itself as fear. I think every writer, no matter who they are, struggles with this. It's part of the creative process.

I am posting a blog on Saturday that deals with the highs and lows of writing . . . we have to get past the lows, live for the highs, and respect the in-betweens.

Congratulations to you for finishing another story! That's definitely a high! Celebrate.

Bonnie Vanak February 1, 2009 at 7:20 PM  

Hi everyone, thanks for your comments, very insightful!

Genella, you're smart. And an extra set of eyes never hurts!

Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

Joy Nash

Bonnie Vanak

Emily Bryan

C.L. Wilson

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